New Publication: Taming the Survey: Managing the Employee Survey to Create Space for Change Oriented Leadership
New Publication: Taming the Survey: Managing the Employee Survey to Create Space for Change Oriented Leadership (in Journal of Change Management)
Senior Lecturer Robert Holmberg, Department of Psycology, Lund University
Associate Professor Magnus Larsson, Department of Organization (IOA), Copenhagen Business School (CBS)
Often, the space for agency and leadership for middle managers is understood to depend on their capacity to escape standardized controlling systems. In this paper, we challenge this view, and instead explore the possibility for middle managers to engage with and make systems enabling rather than constraining, thereby supporting locally relevant change initiatives. We specifically explore how managers engage with employee surveys, as organization wide standardized systems, and work to make these enabling. Based on interviews with 48 managers and observations of 10 meetings in 5 different organizations, we identify three main strategies: reinterpretation, prioritization, and embedding. Drawing on complexity leadership theory, we argue that through these strategies, the managers succeed in creating a temporary adaptive space, thereby facilitating development and innovation. Our findings contribute to the literature on middle managers by developing a detailed understanding of the possibility for enabling leadership in this position.
Standardized measurement and control systems are often expected to drive change and development, but risk constraining rather than enabling middle managerial leadership. Our study of how managers engage with an organization wide standardized employee survey reveals that through their work, the system can be ‘tamed’ and made to facilitate rather than hinder development. The study suggests that to make the survey useful for change and development, aligned with organizational goals but at the same time adapted to local needs, the managers’ extensive effort is a critical factor.
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